Sunday, April 21, 2013

MONTE CARLO 2013: Nole Wins Title, Ends Rafa's Streak At 8

Despite my prediction earlier, World #1 Novak Djokovic defeated World #5 Rafael Nadal 6-2 7-6(1) in the final of the ATP  Monte Carlo Master 1000 tournament, ending the Spaniard's historic 46-match, 8-title, winning streak. Djokovic ended Nadal's 81-match winning streak for matches played in the month of April, and evened their head-to-head record at 8-all in finals, though he still lags their overall rivalry 15-19. (This 4 match deficit is the closest any of the players on tour who has faced Nadal more than 10 times.)

It was Djokovic's 3rd appearance in the Monte Carlo Masters final, which is set in his adopted hometown of Monaco, having lost to Nadal in 2012 and 2009. It was the Serbian's 37th ATP Tour win (37-19 in ATP our finals) and 14th ATP Masters Series shields, 7 less than Nadal (and 6 less than Roger Federer).

Match Recap
Djokovic had a near perfect start, successfully deploying his game plan of replying to Nadal's penchant of hitting backhands cross-court with blistering down-the-line backhands. He won the first 5 games by breaking Nadal twice and had multiple chances to break him a 3rd time and win a 6-0 set. (If he had done so, Djokovic would have become the fourth player to bagel Nadal on clay. The others are Federer, Guillermo Coria and 2005 French Open champion Gaston Gaudio.) Nadal managed to hold and then broke Djokovic in the very next game. However, when he was serving (now only down one break) at 2-5, Djokovic was able to break and win the first set. It was only the eighth set that Nadal had dropped in the last 46 matches played in Monte Carlo. (He had lost his seventh earlier in the tournament against Grigor Dimitrov.)

In the second set, Djokovic was able to survive two consecutive break points in the 3rd game to keep his nose ahead 2-1 but Nadal was settling in and rattled off three consecutive games to take a 4-2 lead. However, Djokovic gutted out another hold and when facing Nadal (still down a break 3-4) he hit three amazing shots in a row and was able to even the set at 4-all. Things went on serve until 5-all when Nadal broke Djokovic for the third time in the match. However, when the Spaniard served for the match 6-5 to force the seemingly inevitable third and deciding set, he was unceremoniously broken at love to set up a tiebreak. Still shell shocked, Nadal played a loose tiebreak, hitting numerous errors and quickly succumbed, winning only one point.

I am one of the people that thought that if the match had not been sopped last year, Djokovic would have won the 2012 French Open title over Nadal. Ever since then I have been saying that Djokovic has an excellent shot at doing so in 2013. The fact that he was able to defeat Nadal on the court where he is the most successful and comfortable) is absolutely devastating mentally. Although Nadal has only ever lost one match at Roland Garros, he knows it could happen. Also, due to his extended absence from the game following Wimbledon last year, he could be ranked as low as #5 at Roland Garros this year, meaning he could potentially face Djokovic or Federer in a quarterfinal or semifinal, depending on the draw. He could potentially have to play 3 people more highly ranked than him in order to claim his 8th French Open title. I do think Nadal will win 8 French Open titles, but somehow I doubt it will happen this year.

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